the kit war geolic shirt
Let's neymar dive into it.
historic Europe map

Let's go back in time...

shirt location icon Adidas original logo Puma original logo



Our story begins in the year 1924, when two brothers, "Adi" and Rudolf Dassler, founded the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory in the tiny and inconspicuous town of Herzogenaurach (Germany). Their success came almost promptly. In 1936, for instance, Adi convinced U.S. sprinter Jesse Owens to use his hand made spikes at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. However, feeling betrayed by his brother, in 1947, Rudolf moved across the town to open his own shoe company Puma, whereas "Adi" renamed his firm into Adidas.



But this was not the end of the dispute between the brothers. Instead, it became the starting point of a worldwide conflict that would influence the next decades of sports equipment, especially in football and the sponsorship of its teams and players.

However, it was until the 90's that Adidas dominated the kit market, not only outperforming Puma but also other huge brands such as Umbro or Lotto. But suddenly another label started to cast its net wide into the field of football and soon became a competitor that had to be taken seriously: Nike. It was the birth of the Sneaker Wars , but also the starting point of...
If you are interested in the history of sneakers and the fight for customers between Nike and Adidas I can recommend you the book "Sneaker Wars" by Barbara Smit.

Disclosure: This is an affilate link, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a comission if you click through and make a purchase. Geolic is independently owned and the opinions expressed here are my own. I only recommend products which I tested and liked myself.


A data-driven apparel battle between Adidas & Nike, analyzing football team sponsorships of top 100 FIFA members and the top 300 club teams worldwide for the last 30 years (and current contracts).

(Note: Data for all current 211 FIFA members and top 500 clubs (instead of top 300) is available for you to discover further. However, I chose to use only the top-100 FIFA nations and top-300 clubs for the story due to a higher incompleteness of data for lower-ranked teams. If you want to help to complete the data feel free to contact me.)

Start 1st half

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Default (used for the story): Top 100 nations (Elo ranking) and top 300 clubs (social ranking)

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Clubs Ranking

Popularity of clubs based on # of social followers. (More details at the end of this article.)

National Teams Ranking

The 1990-2019 average Elo ranking of all 211 FIFA affiliated national teams (as of 2019) normalized by disregarding Non-FIFA nations.

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Back Pass

Back Pass

How to read a snail chart?

This chart shows the periods (in years) of all apparel brand partnerships among the selected teams. Due to performance reasons, the amount of visible charts is limited to 50, ordered descendingly by the maximal partnership period of the teams. Each partnership's period presents the merged amount of years from 1990 to 2027 (including existing contracts), which means that it was not necessarily one single, consecutive period, but could be split into several periods along this time frame.

To depict this information visually a novel data chart was created, called a snail chart. A snail chart can be seen as a modified ordered stacked bar chart that arranges bars in a hexagonal shape. Due to this shape, it is possible to include a line which depicts the difference between one bar and its predecessor to introduce an additional cue for the interpretation of variation among the bars. If you like the chart or if you want to know more about its benefits (and drawbacks) you can check out the follow-up post discussing the snail chart in more detail.

Back Pass



"Football is business, and business is business."

I guess there is no dispute about the correctness of this quote by former Dutch head coach Rinus Michels as it summarizes current professional football pretty well. And it is also true that one of the main drivers for this business is sportswear companies. If you want to be seen on the market you get to sign a team (or player), equip it with your products and hope they'll perform well (if not already doing so). As more popular and successful the team as larger the customer base. For a long time, Adidas was the football brand when it came to worldwide apparel sponsorship. But does this still hold? In recent year the biggest rival on the market was Nike, not only for national teams in a World Cup but also for the big players in club football.



Let's start our data journey with a first look at the absolute number of teams sponsored by each brand to get an initial glance about who is dominating the market.




An early goal for Adidas! What a strike!

I start wondering what all this debate is about. Adidas is by far the winner here and clearly dominates the market. No sign of Nike when it comes to the number of supported teams...



...Really? Well, this chart is hiding a critical detail: This was the situation in 1990, the starting year of our data coverage. Let's see how the numbers change over the upcoming years until today.


No Goal! (VAR)


Oh my! The referee doesn't give the goal to Adidas after watching the scene again on the screen. A very questionable call! Discussions will follow regarding this decision because Adidas led the ranking the whole time!

Now, this is what I call a neck and neck!

But did you see how Nike suddenly jumped into the Top 10 in the mid-'90s and kept its second place almost constantly since 2000? And now in 2019 Adidas and Nike are almost on the same level, with both having nearly the double amount of teams compared to third-placed Puma. This might have been the crucial detail for not giving the goal to Adidas...

So what was this sudden decrease in 2019 from Adidas? Between 2018 and 2019 Adidas lost a total of 35 teams! Let's remember this and come back to it later.

Conclusion I
It's still a tie here!

Now it's your turn! You can use the team data filter, color picker and time frame selector (select by year, a decade or all-time) to customize the chart as you like and replay the animation again. You can also have a look into the future as current contracts of teams until the year 2027 are also included in the dataset (if available). Just keep scrolling and they will appear on your screen.

(Note: For each of the upcoming charts the predefined filter will be applied first to follow the story. Afterwards, your own filter will be reset and you can start to discover again.)



Back to the kit war battle: We concluded that as of 2019 Nike and Adidas have a similar amount of sponsored teams. However, this does not tell us anything about their commitment to their partners. A real and successful partnership depends on trust and teamwork, which you can only achieve with time. So let's have a look at how long their sponsorships lasted.



It's a one-sided game here! Adidas keeps putting pressure on Nike. It seems it's only a matter of time before a goal is scored.

This list depicts clubs and all of their partnerships with sportswear brands for the time frame of 1990 to 2027 ordered by the maximal period of a sponsorship per team (How to read this chart?). Among the 50 longest partnerships of a club and a brand, Adidas is 25 times present, whereas Nike was only 16 times the brand that teams were partnering with the longest. From the seven teams that never changed their apparel sponsor throughout the time, Adidas takes the majority of 5 sponsorships (with Nike and Marathon each having one sole partnership).

However, this statistic should be taken with caution because Nike (as we discovered in the first visualization) only decided to actively dive into the football market from the mid-90s'. Because of this, its total amount of teams is lower than for Adidas. So let's add a graph that shows the rate of teams with over 5 years of partnership among all teams sponsored by a brand.




Well, this came out of the blue! A quickly executed counterattack results in the lead for Nike! However, the goal was made in a suspiciously offside position, but it counts!

Now the situation looks quite different. With ~63% of its team sponsorships having a share of over 5 years throughout the period between 1990 and 2027, Nike is almost 5% above the percentage of Adidas' long term partnerships. It may be not very much, but it indicates that Nike might put slightly more effort into the commitment of a long-term partnership than Adidas does.

Conclusion II
That's the lead for Nike!

Now it's your turn again!

End 1st half



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Start 2nd half



A little summary of what we discovered so far:

  1. Adidas exclusively was the brand with the highest amount of sponsored teams throughout the last 30 years. However, very recently, Nike caught up and as of 2019 is on the same level when it comes to the amount of sponsored teams.
  2. When ranking sportswear brands by the number of years committing its service to a team, both Adidas and Nike again are at the top of that list, with Adidas having a higher total of longterm partnerships. But this time there is a more significant gap between both when looking at the share of > 5years sponsorships, with Nike taking a 5% lead.

So we know how many teams each brand supports and how long they did it. But in the end, it is always about "Who gets the big fish?"...




A penalty for Adidas! This is the big chance now...

Do you remember Adidas' sudden loss of 35 sponsored teams in 2019, which we observed in the first chart animation? Well, when looking at the popularity of these teams, only 6 came from the top 50 clubs or top 50 nations (Milan, Schalke, Palmeiras, Marseille, Iran, and Israel). As a side note: interestingly, the successor from 4 of these teams was Puma. So Adidas seems to concentrate its sponsorship more and more towards highly ranked teams rather than having the largest share of teams.

Then, let's add another parameter to our analysis and create a seating plan of brands based on the popularity / strength of their supported teams. Adidas might score here...



(Note: Two different ranking systems are used here. For club teams, social follower ranking based on the official social media pages of each club is applied and located on the West wing of the seating plan chart. For national teams, a performance ranking based on the averaged end-of-year Elo ranking of each FIFA member for the last thirty years was used (more details about the rankings in the methodology section at the end of this article). For both rankings, the top-50 teams were selected for the chart to reduce complexity.

The stadium is full, and the crowd cheers for its color! But it looks all quite complex. Let's break this down and first only highlight Nike and Adidas supporters...



The majority of the seats here are taken by Nike or Adidas fans. But Adidas seems to have a few more (if we exclude the '90s Adidas has ~30 accumulated years more). But what interests us most is how their share distributes in the VIP Lounge.



Adidas cracks on the pressure and misses the penalty!

It seems that Nike and Adidas are fighting for every team they can get their hands on. Over the years Nike might have gained more VIP national teams, but at the same time, Adidas fought back in the 2010s' signings of club teams, acquiring 3 VIP clubs in this decade (Juventus, Arsenal, and ManU), with two of them as the direct successor of Nike.

But still, Nike outperforms Adidas in the VIP Lounge of football teams (even when considering the '90s (!) and when ignoring the '90s Nike has a lead of ~45 accumulated years). The conclusion is that no clear winner can be found among all top-ranked teams.

Conclusion III
Nike stays in lead!

Now it's your turn again! You can hover over the squares to see the team and its sponsor for the particular year. All other squares of the same sponsor will be highlighted and squares for the same year or for the same team will be marked as well with an outline. And don't forget to use the filter and color picker to customize the chart as you like.



The website you are currently visiting is called Geolic, which means we need some geolic content. And a map is probably the most geolic thing there is.

So let's have a final look into the geographic distribution of sponsorships around the globe, starting with national teams. This is the last chance for Adidas to tie the game...



As expected, in 1990, the situation is quite clear: Adidas runs the business, contracting the majority of teams on each continent. Let's go through each year and observe whether this distribution changes and where Nike concentrates its partnerships at...



It's an open game now with chances on both sides. But Nike can keep its lead still...

In 2019 the situation looks very even. Adidas regained teams in Africa clearly concentrating on North African nations. However, also in 2019 Nike is, for the first time, head to head with Adidas regarding the number of sponsored teams among high-profile UEFA national teams and dominates the Asian market. It seems we also need to have a look at club teams...



Adidas is running out of time...

You probably spotted the large shares for Nike in China and Adidas in the USA respectively. This is because both brands have a contract with the top-tier league of each country to equip all its teams.

Another thing that pops up is the fact that Adidas may have more teams in England under contract, but Nike leads this statistics in the remaining big leagues/countries, namely France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. This alone may serve as proof that Nike is outperforming Adidas on the market and could be considered as the new global apparel market leader.

Conclusion IV
Adidas cannot tie the game and may loose this battle!

Now it's your turn again! You can change the team types and (for club teams) compare any two sponsors you like.



But then again there is still time left on the clock...

Data Research & Mining

Apparel Sponsorship Data

The main data source for the apparel sponsorships was Wikipedia. However, many teams had a lack of a sufficient amount of data (or totally missed such data). Therefore, I manually searched through Youtube videos, Google images, Facebook groups, news articles and also contacted clubs directly (thanks Xavi for the data of the Andorran national team!), which took longer than I previously expected (around 2 months). A huge thank you goes out to Jaime Benx and Nick who especially assisted me to find data of the smaller national football associations.

Disclaimer: Even though I did my best to figure out which team used which brand's apparel at which time (and often also double-checked it when in doubt) the apparel market does not always follow the rules [1][2][3]. Not only that contracts might have been canceled before they were finished, in some cases the teams did not use officially licensed team wear (this is mostly the case for low-level national teams). So even though photos were made by players in an official game wearing a specific brand, it did not necessarily mean that this brand was actually sponsoring the team (which was the main reason why I decided to cut out low-level teams from the data set for the story of this article).
Furthermore, some contracts were only set for a specific competition, rather than based on a yearly agreement. If I found evidence for this, I counted the agreement as a half year (for instance when the agreement was only for the period of a world cup), with the remaining year adding "no data" or another sponsor if known.

Team Ranking data

For the team rankings, I split the data into national team data and club team data.

For the national team ranking, I used the Elo ranking system. The official FIFA ranking (which already switched its system to the Elo rating system in June 2018) went through different kinds of ranking algorithm changes which makes it impossible to compare earlier years with more recent years. So I went with the Elo rating and created an average rank for each team from each of its year-ending Elo rank starting from 31. December 1989 until February 2019.

Regarding club teams, because no year-by-year performance rating system exists that considers all clubs around the world, I mainly used the Global Digital Football Benchmark (as of January 2019), which was kindly provided by Result Sport, to get the number of social followers of football teams around the world. Here, many different social channels are considered, which includes not only Facebook and Twitter but also regionally more relevant websites like SinaWeibo (China) or vKontakte (Eastern Europe). However, because the number of teams was too low for me I extended the list of club teams by scraping through clubs' official Twitter and Facebook channels (which may result in the absence of additional teams from specific regions such as China).

The Story and Data Viz

For me, it is important to enabling the viewers to discover data interactively for themselves, but at the same time provide them with a common thread in the form of a story. Therefore, I came up with the battle idea of comparing the two largest brands on the market and use this as a guide to get in touch with the data. I also wanted to provide both highlighting these two brands in the charts and at the same time have an overview of all the data. So I use a consistent coloring of brands throughout the story. For people who may dislike the color choice or who have issues identifying them I add a color picker that changes the color of the respective brand in all the charts. Furthermore, the users can filter the data to get insights for their particular area of interest.

Tools Used

For the data visualization I used the d3.js library that fetches data from a MySQL database. Furthermore, I used Inkscape to draw the stadium frame of the seating plan chart as well as creating the icons and Photoshop for the cover photo. The background texture of the historic map was created by -

Other Remarks

This analysis solely worked with ordinary data answering the question "which team is equipped by which brand?". But of course there is much more to it when deeper insights about the market are needed. If you want more details for the Premier League you can check out this report. If you want to know more about the clubs and their value you can check out this yearly report.

Want to work with me?

If you are in need of a custom, interactive, and appealing data visualization or require assistance in your data project including database management, data analysis or data research feel free to contact me to discuss how I can help you to derive crucial insights from your data.

Did you enjoy the story?

Then follow Geolic on these social channels:

...or subscribe to the newsletter:

You can also support Geolic.

This will not only keep the quality of the content high (more time to work on projects, more resources to use, etc.), but you will also be mentioned as an official patron, have early access to upcoming content, get a chance to be part of the idea process or receive a user flair on Reddit.

Check out the Patreon page of Geolic for more information.